Qantas is facing a massive fine for selling tickets on flights that the airline knew would be canceled. The airline is making some pretty pathetic claims to try and get out of paying this…
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Qantas faces massive ACCC fine over canceled flights
A couple of months back, I wrote about how the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) launched an action alleging that Qantas has engaged in false, misleading, or deceptive conduct.
The airline is accused of selling tickets on flights that it had already canceled in order to generate more revenue. Specifically, the claim is that there were more than 8,000 flights scheduled to depart between May and July 2022, where Qantas kept selling tickets on its website for an average of more than two weeks after canceling flights.
We’re not just talking about a minor fine here, but rather the ACCC has asked a court to fine Qantas “hundreds of millions” of dollars. The ACCC wants to fine Qantas “significantly more than” the $125 million AUD fine that automaker Volkswagen was charged in 2019, for violating Australian consumer laws.
This case came at a time when the perceptions that Australians had of Qantas was at an all-time low, and this situation even caused former Qantas CEO Alan Joyce to resign early.
Qantas defends itself against allegations
Qantas’ response to the ACCC’s allegations have just been published, and the airline makes quite some questionable claims. The gist of Qantas’ defense is that the airline doesn’t actually sell tickets for any particular flight, but rather sells bundles that include transportation on a flight. Per Qantas:
The ACCC contends that Qantas supplies carriage on “particular flights”. Qantas disputes this. The “service” that Qantas supplies is not carriage on any “particular flight” but rather a bundle of rights that includes alternative options to which consumers are entitled in respect of a cancelled flight. Consistently with the provision of that service, by both its pre-contractual statements, and contractual terms, Qantas makes clear to ordinary and reasonable consumers that, while Qantas will do its best to get consumers where they want to be on time, it does not guarantee particular flight times or its flight schedules. Qantas says that, in light of those express statements, the ACCC’s allegations that Qantas, at any time, makes implied or partly-implied representations that Qantas will use reasonable endeavours to operate any “particular flight”, or that any “particular flight” has not been cancelled, are wrong.
That last part is perhaps the most bizarre claim of all. Qantas claims that the airline never says it will use reasonable endeavors to operate any particular flight. Really?!
Since the crux of the issue is that Qantas canceled flights and didn’t even let consumers know, the airline makes the argument that it’s under no obligation to let consumers know if flights are canceled, and the airline didn’t ever tell people that a flight hadn’t been canceled:
Qantas made no representation, at any time, that any particular flight had not been cancelled. Further, Qantas did not represent to consumers that the “Manage Booking” page would, at all times, necessarily reflect the latest scheduling decisions that Qantas had made.
The airline also (accurately) points out that the contract of carriage doesn’t guarantee that you’ll fly on a particular flight:
The terms on which Qantas treats, and contracts, with consumers reflect this. Qantas makes clear both in its pre-contractual statements and contractual terms that, while Qantas will do its best to get consumers to where they want to be on time, it does not guarantee flight times or flight schedules and they do not form part of a consumer’s contract of carriage with Qantas.
Qantas’ defense is a step too far
It’s not surprising that Qantas is trying to get out of paying this fine, because this could have a significant impact on the carrier’s bottom line. Also, I have to imagine that the ACCC’s intent here is largely to score bonus points with the public, given how unpopular of a company Qantas is at the moment.
That being said, I find Qantas’ defense to be ridiculous. Airline scheduling is incredibly complex, and it’s understandable that airlines need to modify their schedules as the departure date approaches. Airline contracts of carriage also do give airlines a lot of discretion with scheduling.
That being said, this defense feels similar to how car valets often have signs saying they accept no responsibility for any damage to your car. Like, if a valet drunk crashes someone’s car, they’re going to have some responsibility, whether they’d like to or not, and no matter what their sign says.
Qantas’ defense is that the company will do its best to get consumers where they want to be on time. If you’re selling tickets on flights that you know you’re going to cancel, then you’re not doing your “best” by any stretch of the imagination. Rather, that’s just called being deceptive, because the company is selling consumers something it knows it can’t offer.
Furthermore, I recognize it’s just a legal defense, but you’ve gotta love how low airlines will go with their defense. “Well, umm, maybe we didn’t tell people that their flight was canceled, but we didn’t tell it wasn’t canceled.” What a defense.
Qantas is facing a major fine from Australian regulators for selling tickets on flights that the airline knew would be canceled. The airline is defending itself by claiming that the airline doesn’t actually sell tickets on flights, but rather sells a “bundle of rights.” Furthermore, Qantas claims that the expectation from consumers that the airline will use reasonable endeavors to operate any particular flight is wrong.
I’m curious to see how this plays out in court…
What do you make of Qantas’ defense?